Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Not Too Late

Perhaps the holidays held some hollow pining in your heart, ebbing in and out of other joyous emotions, like the unlit strand of tree lights intermingled with sections of garland and other bright trimmings.  If you took time to embrace the brief visit of grief, you either felt warm bittersweet comfort, regret and guilt or a steely indifference to the uninvited intruder.  Depending on how we have dealt with the sorrow of losing a loved one and how we loved them, determines our response.

When I reflect on the spouse I loved and built a home with, who died twenty years ago, I feel warm comfort and gratitude for the years we had together and yes, sorrow, but a sorrow that has waned from acute pain and distress into a tiny flicker which will glow in my heart forever.

My mother died eight years ago and many times grief has wanted to visit my memories with regret and guilt. I longed for a closer relationship with her that I never quite attained, and I often felt I hadn't tried hard enough or maybe hadn't been willing to forgive her completely for attitudes and judgements that kept us apart.  The guilt came from knowing I was to honor her, but feeling I fell short, often. 

Assured of God's love and grace for me, I am finding His Spirit healing my regrets, forgiving my judgmental attitudes and teaching me about honoring parents. I want to honor well the parents who I still have with me.  As I encounter life and experience first-hand what  my mother would have already been through or discovered, I appreciate anew her faith and consistent love for her family.  I realize her good example of staying connected to Jesus, the Vine, and the legacy of prayer she left behind. I express that to others and  imagine what I would say to her now, to let her know I understand better and appreciate more. I find love growing over difficult memories like coral building it's bright colors over sunken vessels.

I read the story of David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 this week. Another blog entry I posted about a year ago, expresses my awe at the kindness of David and the turn of events for Mephibosheth.  This time my attention focused on David's desire to honor his friend Jonathan, who was no longer living.  Showing honor became more than visiting a grave site or lighting a candle.  David searched for a way to express kindness to Jonathan's family.  The result was a new way of life for a crippled man and a beautiful expression of honor to a friend.

I've been released from guilt and regret as I accept God's forgiveness and allow him to re frame my past.  Freely, I have received, now I can freely give.  Is there more you are showing me now, Father? Are there actions of kindness I can do that would honor my mother?  Could it be a phone call to her elderly sisters who live in another state, just because? Perhaps a great grandchild needs to hear how she loved and the giving heart she showed to neighbors and friends, and that she enjoyed playing games with the family and always remembered their special days.

Can anyone else relate to the confusing emotions of losing a family member? Or just the way holidays bring out the sadness? I encourage you to take all of this to the Father today and experience the kind way he loves you and his offer to trade your sorrows for joy, comfort,  healing grace, and forgiveness.

Isaiah 43:19
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. KJV

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Savoring the Season

I'm enjoying the best of the season's beauty and reflecting on thoughts and inspirations during this advent time.  Just to share a few:

*Taking in a concert at Goshen College, the small Christian college where I work, was awesome.  The various choirs from the school and a children's community choir performed in a state of the art concert hall on campus.  The sound was majestic and when the orchestra, the trained choirs and we the audience blended our voices to sing a few select carols it was truly a worshipful experience.  We have been created  with the capacity to make music.  He has done all things well.

*Blogs have been uplifting and thought provoking.  Carey Scott did a 3 day series on the Mary and Martha story from the gospels challenging us women to choose the better thing in the midst of the necessary preparations. There is a place for both taking time out just to sit in His presence and ignore the urgent,  and serving well with planning and hard work.  It isn't always one or the other, but seizing the moments that are nudging us towards him, within the distractions.  It's about  responding to his whisper, his reminders, his call to notice the beauty in the activity and his image imprinted in the ones we serve. How I want to respond like this! To never be so far into the multi-tasking performance that I miss the cues for when to pause.

Another devotional reminded me that this Lover of our Souls sings over us as a mother sings a lullaby over her young child.  What a sweet picture to mentally hug during these busy days!   

*The newsletters and photo cards that come in the mail are like my first cup of coffee in the morning, warm, satisfying and arresting.  Shared stories of your year and photos that display friendly faces make me smile and bring your presence close. One of the messages on a photo card reads, "The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence".  Thank you, for the reminder!

*Buying gifts when the money goes towards a ministry or the items bought are made by under priviledged women who will profit through the sale allows me a small way to give twice--to them and the one I'm buying the gift for.  This year I supported Destiny Rescue, a missions organization that rescues children from human trafficking and exploitation.  About a year ago, I was challenged to choose a prayer project that was outside of my world of experience and this grievous evil became my focus.  My prayers feel like a drop in the bucket, but I know they are mighty in pulling down strongholds.

Many women receive a second chance at life through a local ministry that gives them education and employment.  The soup mix I bought was personally bagged by 'Kezia'. Give me many places to share your love and hope this year, Father.

*New recipes,  a cookie exchange, a Christmas meal prepared for us, tried-and-true-traditional snacks and food to share with neighbors and friends makes the heart merry and the palate zing with flavor.  (One of those tried and true recipes can be found here)  What would celebrations be without special foods for feasting and grazing? Thank you, Father for the gift of taste and for the communion that happens when we share food together.

*A December wedding found us traveling 4 hours from home to witness the ceremony.  The ethereal church setting had a tiered stage, a piano on one side and an organ playing tandem on the other side.  Regal and majestic were words that came to mind as I heard and felt the music.  Vows were spoken, symbols exchanged and a kiss sealed the deal.  We smiled and cheered and I squeezed Kevin's hand remembering similar promises we had made to each other years ago.  I felt part of a Holy Spirit conspiracy as the pastor spoke the final benediction from Numbers 6,
24 “The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace", 
the same closing I had written in the wedding card I intended to give them.  Father, thank you for creating marriage.  While your advent the first time fills us with joy, it will pale in comparison to your second coming and the grand gala planned for the wedding between us! I wait for you, my bridegroom. 

What treasures are you finding in this year's Christmas holiday? May you be drawn ever closer to Him.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hochstetler's 2012 Christmas Tunes

Hark!  Radioland launches into a'caroling and all singing noel, and it's beginning to sound and look a lot like Christmas, even though there are still pumpkins and fall colors hanging out on my dining room table.  As I scramble to get the winter holiday trappings out of storage, I remind myself that I'm not late it's just that the Jeanettes and Isabellas are even quicker than usual about this decorating thing this year.

"O, Christmas tree", I bemoan as I pull the fake tree from the under-the-stairs closet. Bought in haste from a resale store to appease the hubby's objection to the mess of a real tree, I never did love this big bristle brush that seems to be missing it's bottom boughs.  I scrounge around for a box the right width and height to set it on so I can get the hang-from-the-branches-with-care party started.  Maybe my ship will be among the three sailing in on Christmas day in the morning and I will go out to some midnight clear sale and buy a tree more life-like. I decide to let some of the grand kids, with their eyes all a'glow, help me put the finishing touches on the tree when they come to spend the night. Somehow this time of the year is made most wonderful with children's excitement. 

I remove the expired objects and other clutter from the table to make room for the holly, jolly, candles, greens, and pine cones. I pick up an envelope that traveled back with us from a recent trip to visit Jodi and her family in Florida. I finger through the contents, smiling at 4 year old Ian's artwork. (Emmanuel works as a car mechanic for BMW, while Jodi is a stay-at-home mom)  We love time with Ian and his 2 year old brother, Dominic!  They won't be home for Christmas this year, so we will cherish these memories.

                                                    Emmanuel, Jodi, Ian &  Dominic

    Kira & Josh
  As I set the digital camera aside to the desk, I take time to click through, again, the pixels I captured during that visit which also included a jaunt to MO. to visit Josh, Kira, his fiancee and Kira's two sons, Cody and Brayden. (Josh continues his sales job with a printing company in Tulsa).  Kira treated us to tickets into Silver Dollar City, not too far from her house.  The Branson theme park was alit with colorful lights, silver bells, jingle bells, the brightest and best of Christmas cheer. Besides seeing a show and watching a light parade, some of our party went dashing through the Powder Keg amusement ride.  I wanted to be home for Christmas, so I watched from the sidelines. :) Josh and Kira will have the parson do the job when he's in Tulsa where they plan to be married in April. We look forward to adding these wonderful three to our clan. (Kira is a loan underwriter at a bank, since just moving to Tulsa).



Brayden (12)

July of this year, when Christmas things were lying very still in their deep and dreamless hibernation sleep,  Jill and Elle, Josh's lovely daughters, came to spend a week with us.  Our excursions included a trip to Lake Michigan, picking up Uncle Austin in Valparaiso. (Austin recently acquired a social work job, being a life skills coach to youth in the foster system). Jill and Elle wondered about Amish as we wandered through Shipshewana.  We made the most of our time together. You can  catch more details of their visit here.

                                                                                                                  Elle, Austin, & Jill

I break my reverie and return to my decorating. Lovingly, I position the manger scene figures.  Many years ago my brother, Jess, carved the pieces out of ivory soap. This memory leads me away to this year's October family visit to Virginia.  Dad and Lena continue in their sweet relationship.  Lois, Paul, Jess and their companions were all there.  Glad tidings to our great Showalter kin!

I tuck the baby Jesus away in the manger and put the finishing touches on my snowmen collection display.
I hope it's not just wishful thinking, but I'm dreaming of  a white Christmas. The season has yet to deliver any winter wonderland magic.

We'll have ourselves a merry little Christmas this Saturday as we rock around the Christmas tree with the family who live close by.  A.J. (working in manufacturing and a recent grad with a criminal justice admin degree) and Amanda (working part-time and a stay-at-home mom) will bring Auron (5) and Elika (2).  Dan (RV employee and an EMT trainee and volunteer with the fire department) and Kristina (full-time mom) will come with Aubrey (8), Shawn (5) and Rebecca (2).  Austin is also close enough to join us.

 Kristina, Dan, Shawn, Rebecca & Aubrey

                                                               A.J., Auron, Amanda & Elika

Kevin looks forward to being a rested merry gentleman as the holidays will bring a few days off from work at Tri-State Compressed Air Systems.  I am considering it great joy to have two weeks off from my job at the Goshen College Library.  We are thankful for jobs, good health, family to enjoy and many friends who are gifts all through the year. Harvest Community Church is the place where we connect to the body of Christ.

Christ Jesus entered our world as a baby, lived here as our example, died as our Savior, now lives in heaven to intercede for us and will one day come to take us to the place he is preparing for us. He is Healer for all the pain and sorrow in this world, the Wonderful Counselor, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace! This is THE greatest gift of all. Joy to the world!

Do you hear what I hear? Our wish to each of you for a very meaningful and beautiful holiday and our heartfelt gratitude for all you mean to us.

In the love that came down at Christmas,

Kevin and Ruth

May the lyrics of this traditional carol bless you and be our prayer.

As with Gladness Men of Old

Words: Will­iam C. Dix, 1860.
Music: Dix, Kon­rad Koch­er, Stim­men aus dem Reiche Gott­es, 1838
As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright
So, most glorious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom Heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light;
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Shrinking back?

Studying Hebrews with our community Bible study has been good and challenging. We've meandered  through warnings and promises and the reality of a High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us.  Here is my response to the lesson this week from chapter 10, verses 35-39.

35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
“In just a little while,
    he who is coming will come
    and will not delay.”
38 And,
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
    And I take no pleasure
    in the one who shrinks back.”
39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.


to draw back, as in retreat or avoidance: to shrink from danger; to shrink from contact

Lesson Question:
What does shrinks back (10:38) mean to you?

"Well that sure didn't work out", she concluded as she closed the door on another relationship.  "I'm not wasting time and effort on trying to be nice to her when all I get back are nasty remarks and sly put-downs."
     **Shrink back, or keep killing with kindness**

"They have no right to treat me that way or criticize what I do.  I'll just resign from the committee.  They apparently don't need me anyway."
     **Shrink back, or ask God for wisdom and humility and confidence in the midst of opposition**

"It's like I don't even exist.  No one takes anything I say seriously.  So I'll just shut-up and keep my thoughts to myself."
     **Shrink back, or believe He has good plans for me**

"Oh, I forgive her.  I just don't think we can be close anymore.  I'm not trusting her again."
     **Shrink back, or love as He loves me**

"I'm not praying as hard for that anymore.  God hasn't answered, so it must not be important to Him."
     **Shrink back, or press on in faith."

"I'm not praying as hard for that anymore.  I don't see anything happening so I kind of forget about it."
     **Shrink back, or make effort to remember what is important to Him**

"I want to be closer to God...I'll spend more time with Him...after I check my emails, take my next turn in Scrabble online, catch-up on Facebook, watch the news, call my kids, read my newest magazine..."
     **Shrink back, or be deliberate about pursuing my relationship with the Lord of Lords and King of 
          Kings who gave his life for me, knowing that in His presence is fullness of joy.**

"I'm getting older now, it's just easier to let someone else do it.  Besides, I've put in my time.  I think I deserve to slow down a bit."
      **Shrink back, or persevere in doing His will knowing He waits to richly reward me and He has no early retirement options or plans.  Each day I'm here, I'm His delight and He promises to provide for all my needs. If every hair on my head is accounted for, how can I not have confidence that He will be faithful to me and help me to continue to faithfully follow Him.**

Thank you, Father, that by your grace, I belong to those who do not shrink back but have faith and are saved. 

Further contemplation: 
C.H. Spurgeon-

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Childish Things

So I held my two year old grandson on my lap and began to sing-song the little ryhme while bouncing him slowly and then faster until he was giggling gleefully. As soon as my actions stopped he begged for a repeat.

His brother watched the DVD I had brought along, not once but several times. One viewing of talking cars and simple stories was enough for me.

The knee bounce lover also liked wedging himself between the wall and the sofa and coaxing Papa to cover the opening with  pillows so he could "hiding".  Of course Papa's stacking skills were employed a multitude of times.

Bedtime stories were the same ones every night and oatmeal for breakfast four days in a row was by popular choice.

Living for a week with my daughter and her family was such a treat!
Children thrive on consistency and predictibility. Bedtime routine, scheduled naps, mealtime, chores and favorite toys and games. It was fun to watch and be part of the action.

I did tire of doing the same thing over and over. When the visist ended I would be able to choose v-a-r-i-e-t-y! Yet how different do my activities look from day to day? Work doesn't change much. I like to play app games over and over or eat the same favorite snacks. Buy me the wrong toothpaste brand and watch my reaction! Even though I may get away with an erratic bedtime schedule for a day or two, I know I'm wiser to stay in a good sleep pattern.

Maybe that's reflective of being made in the Creator's image. He's not the author of confusion but a God of order. The days come and go consistently. Laws of nature are so predictable we are rarely conscience of them. I am thankful for the sameness in my life.

Yet we reflect a God who is also artist, beginner of newness, and giver of unexpected rewards and a Lover whose love is sure and constant , but also wild and crazy.

"He's not safe, but he's good". (C.S. Lewis about Aslan)

What's not to love then about this life he's called us to? Whether you're feeling stuck in the monotony of routine or longing for stability or wish you were more in charge of the seasons of your life, know that our God is good and as we trust him for all of life we will live free from boredom and fear of change.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

He is Greater!

Don't you love it when your every day programming is interrupted with a word from our Sponsor? The messages He gives remind me of who is running the show and a glimpse of what is happening behind scenes.  I had some reality shows interrupted in my world this week. I had no urge to mute these announcements; it was time to turn up the volume.

I first noticed the announcement playing during Post Election Day this week. After the campaign frenzy building up to the election and the anticipation that things might turn out the way I hoped, the morning after brought disappointment and a deep sense of loss. Hope for change and a different leader at the helm wouldn't happen. There were more Americans who wanted to continue in the direction we were headed, than wanted that change and that meant I was now a part of the minority. Did my vote really matter? How disheartening to go through all that expensive hoopla to have things stay almost the same.

Then I heard it. The reminder that someone greater than any president or governor was still in charge and there still is a Kingdom that cannot be shaken no matter who rules this piece of the planet. A Kingdom that I claim citizenship to and a King who has counted me worthy to serve Him. No matter what is happening on earth, the Kingdom of God is expanding and I get to work with Him to bring His justice, peace, and love to hearts of men that are open to knowing him. My King is greater. He still has a plan.

Philippians 3:20
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ...

1 Peter 2:11
I beg you, as those whom I love, to live in this world as strangers and “temporary residents”...

Was I hoping for an election win that would restore trust in earthly government? My trust can only be in the Lord.
It was then that I found more motivation to pray for this country than I had before and during the election. Oh, Lord forgive our sins. Forgive our arrogance of thinking we're wonderful when we aren't. Of denying our neediness and failure to learn from the past. For taking for granted our freedom and comfort. For judging others. For looking to man's ways to bring Godliness. May we keep our hope upon you, and honor the president in office. May we be people of prayer, sharing your love to everyone the same, regardless of political beliefs.

I get an email from my financial adviser this week telling me what to expect since the election is over. I hear  the Sponser's message saying the greater investments are the ones laid up in heaven. Am I managing that account with the same watchfulness I have for stocks, bonds and annuities? The pay offs are guaranteed and last through eternity.

I enjoy the woman's retreat at church this weekend. During worship I imagine the Great One's strength surrounding me as a father encircles a child who is struggling with quivering effort to prove his muscles are somehow strong enough to break free from the stronger embrace. A game they like to play. Like the child, when I'm spent from the tussle I lean confidently into Him, relaxed and secure.  He tells me again that He is in charge and quite capable of protecting me.

Someone shares their story at a workshop during the retreat. She says that wanting to know God more is not the same as knowing him better. And I'm reminded that knowing comes from spending time in His presence, soaking in His goodness and love, listening to His words. Desires and intentions may make me feel like I'm getting closer to him, but if I never follow through to actually drawing aside to be with him, I am fooling myself. He is greater than anything else this world has to offer.

Thank you for sharing words of encouragement with me this week, Father. You are greater, more wonderful and mighty than any earthly power. I worship you. May you be exalted in your people.

My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We Are Heard

Skipping towards home with anticipation, her long pigtails lilted energetically against the back of her madras paid blouse.  Arriving at the white, green-shuttered bungalow she quickly twisted open the door handle of the side entrance. Would it be tomato soup and grilled cheese today or peanut-butter and banana sandwiches?  She loved living close enough to school to be able to come home each day for lunch.
"Mom!", she called loudly, bouncing inside. "In the kitchen, sweetie", came the reassuring reply.

This time she sits by the window in the little alcove her dad has turned into a dressing room.  She's a teenager. The house is quiet. It's dark except for the moon's glow bathing her up-turned face. Tears trickle  along her nose into the tissue she holds over her mouth to muffle the crying.  Her prayers are intense.  The quiet assurance of the Father's presence slowly placates her distress.

Many years have passed and the same girl, now a young mother, stirs a pot of soup on the stove. Simultaneously, she reads the recipe for the pumpkin pie she plans to bake for dessert.
"Mommy?", a child's voice queries from the next room.
"What is it?".  No answer.
"I'm in here, my love".  No comment.
The mother peeks quietly past the door frame to observe the toddler.  Happily engrossed in her play, the little one is unaware of the mother's furtive glance. Momma smiles and returns to her cooking.

Another One offered up prayers with loud cries and tears to his Father who had the power to save him from death and he was heard.  But he still died. Died a cruel death. Died an undeserved death. But he was heard. His Father sent angels to attend to him.  He was reminded of the joy that awaited him when the plan would be completed. He must have heard again how much the Father loved him.

The toddler, the school girl, the teen and the Son all were heard and it was good, it was enough.

Isn't knowing the Father is there, loving us lavishly and listening to us intently, amazing? Whatever our circumstances are now, whatever the outcome of our requests will be, we have the incredible privilege of being the apple of his eye and the one his ear is tuned to.  He is close.

Psalm 116:1 (AMP)

I love the Lord, because He has heard [and now hears] my voice and my supplications.

Proverbs 15:29 (NIV)

The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
1John 5:15 (NIV)
And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 

He hears a nation in prayer before an election, the cries of a city ravaged by a hurricane and a world torn by war.  He knows when and how to answer and He is good all the time.

Take courage any fearful among us! Stop doubting, any who have lost hope! He does hear, He is answering. It will be good for those who love him. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do-nut Let Me Miss This Day!

We gather early to sink our fingers into mounds of yeasty dough.  Chunks of the soft, almost too sticky squishiness are rolled to floured flatness on the countertop. Two-year old granddaugher, perches on the bar stool,  and presses the round cutter into the prepared rectangle while her dad adds an extra push, his strong hand around the smaller one. The younger face beams as the circle twists free like a piece from a puzzle. Clutching the tinier cutter, tongue lolling from side of mouth,  she and dad collaborate again to punch out a small round hole from the first circle. Her eyes follow the puffy creation as it's transported by spatula to cookie sheet. Oblivious to smudges of flour on elbows and nose, she's eager to do it again.

Other family teams cut more yeasty hole-in-the-middle circles.  The table is soon covered with cookie sheets full of the carefully spaced cut-outs, laying like over-sized lifesavers.  The wait is agonizing as mouths water, anticipating the first warm, sugary bite. The shapes must grow to just the right fatness, get plopped into hot oil until perfectly browned, then dipped into glazey sweetness and cooled just enough-enough is relative depending on which mouth is feeding- before the feasting begins.

It's Donut Day with a household of relatives who hang out from morning until afternoon making and eating the satisfying pastries. Older adults visit, coffee in hand. Techno generation makes eye contact with cellular apps and web, preserving memories instantly online; at times all gathered around the same palm to view the latest pixel taken.  Kid cousins run, hide-and-seek,  laugh and cry. The cooking oil makes eyes burn. Windows open to let in new air and coolness. Other family gatherings may get preempted by necessary engagements, but calendars hold only one appointment on this day of sacred tradition.

Thank heaven for leaven! For Homemade Donuts!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Giving Honor

October is pastor appreciation month.

Elders, ministry leaders and congregation collaborated in honoring our pastors on Sunday. Words of commendation were spoken and read aloud while photos from the present and past presented poses of our pastors laboring, laughing and lounging. We feasted together after the meeting and bestowed our gifts on them. We honored God in acknowledging the Godly service and example of those who lead us.

Are they perfect? You might have concluded that from the glowing tributes their adult children shared with us. But they wouldn't claim to be and we know they aren't. There have been times of ouch and oops and days when I would not have felt like singing their praises. Isn't that the way we are, though? Relationships we desire closeness with will disappoint.

Sometimes honor feels like kisses and bursting -at -the -seams pride and tears of gratitude, awe and veneration. But what about when it doesn't? When ho hum indifference or resentment or anger crowds out desire to honor? It's so not about us then, but obedience to God's Word to honor those in leadership, including parents and presidents.  If honoring through clenched teeth seems hypocritical, then it may be time to make  appointments at the throne of grace for attitude alignments, a forgiveness makeover and deep cleansing. Only when we're road worthy to his high Way, can we ask for wisdom and timing to make appeals or confront wrongs.

Help us honor each other as you've asked us to, Father. Not just on special days, but in our hearts and through our words, always.

Romans 12:10
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Straying Heart

The past speaks to us in a thousand voices, warning and comforting, animating and stirring to action. 

Close that door! You'd think you were born in a barn, the way you leave that door open all the time.

Here,'s OK.

Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me... and that thou biddest me come to thee, oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come. sickness and in health, for richer or poorer...til death do us part.

I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

Recognize the voices? 

In the last post we shared ways past voices help our minds find rest and peace. Scripture stored to memory or called to mind, quiets and comforts in the middle of the night. Scripture spoken can convict and stir to action. His Word is the air we breathe. The past still speaks.

I'm finding treasure in a study of Hebrews with a committed group of  women every Monday night.  The first few chapters get two points across very clearly-- 
--Jesus is Greater!  than angels, than man, than Moses, than any other high priest...
--Be careful!  not to let the truth slip away, to keep a firm grip on our confidence in the hope in Christ, to not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, to make sure we enter into God's rest and not fail to enter because of the unbelief and disobedience the Israelites had

When God describes his displeasure with Israel he points out that they "always err and are led astray in their hearts, and they have not perceived or recognized My ways and become progressively better and more experimentally and intimately acquainted with them.". Ch 3, V. 10  AMP

I want to become progressively better...and more intimately acquainted with His ways. BUT.

Reasons Why I Might Thwart That Intimacy
--let me finish this project first because I have so many things to get done the (Mary vs. Martha argument)
--I never stopped to meditate or think about His ways this morning; the TV show was too interesting
--I meant to read that devotional online, but the 'just a little peek' at my emails turned into a maze of clicks and 'likes' and I ran out of time 
--I started reading the Bible, but my to-do list kind of took over and my mind wandered
--This one is hard to admit, but someone in another church class I'm in said it, out LOUD. In front of everyone there. We were talking about how the gospel changes everything in our lives and the power that is in the basic scriptures of salvation and the truth of forgiveness.  He said that he had read those so often and they were so familiar to him that sometimes he realizes that the new thoughts or methods he's heard, about how to deal with issues like unforgiveness or resolving conflicts hold more weight than the simple Words of Life. And I felt convicted right along with him. 

I've read the Bible so often, I think I know what it has to say. I might get sloppy in my attitude and not ask, seek and knock as much as I did at one time. Compound that with the many distractions of life, and the voices of the present and I may be letting the desire to know him better slip away. One. Relaxed. Muscle. At. A. Time. Picture that book you're reading in bed and its slow but sure descent to the floor as your finger muscles totally surrender to the sleep that renders them powerless.

I tell this to the One who wants to experience intimacy with me. I ask for His grace to draw me back to His love that is better than life. I ask for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to know him better, that the eyes of my heart be enlightened that I may know the hope to which he's called me and the incomparably great power for us who believe. I ask Him to woo me closer.

And I embrace the blessing of studying the book of Hebrews with others who infect me with their passion to know him, or share something they've discovered that I never saw before. I need my sisters in Christ.

I couldn't resist. Hope this brings some lightheartedness your way today:
A husband and wife are fighting about who has to make coffee in the morning. 
The wife says "You wake up before me you should do it." The husband says 
"It's part of the cooking so it's your responsibility." "No." the wife says. 
"It's in the bible that the man makes coffee." The husband says "Prove it." 
The wife goes and gets the bible and sure enough there it is.."HEBREWS"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

No Matter the Circumstances

It's been one of those weeks where some things were excitingly awesome, others sad, some puzzling and the pieces were all wrapped up in a bundle of busyness. With two nights of the week committed to church obligations, the evenings in between are preserved for personal maintenance of the routines of life,  like doing dishes, exercising, picking the last green bean from the garden, planning the next grocery trip and squeezing in a bit of Facebook and Scrabble online.

My heart sang with the long awaited announcement that my youngest son had landed a job in his field of study. I'll miss the complimentary packages of coffee from his Starbuck's job, just a little, but what a blessing to see our prayers answered and his career launched.  I wish you the best, Austin!

A whirlwind trip to Chicago two night ago allowed us to see another son who was vacationing there for the weekend. We soaked in the big city sites and sounds as well as her rainy weather, savoring every second of the three short hours we had  together. Cell phones with texting, face time and voice chats can't compare to the feel of arms around necks and walking side by side.  

I was proud of my husband last night as he helped host his high school class reunion.  Even the spouses seemed to have a good time. His many hours of planning paid off and he had fun in the process, catching up with the other committee  members.

Sad news came to a friend this week when a parent's cancer reappeared. Political discussions left me melancholy and longing  for a country where truth matters and honor to all is upheld. The last day of summer came and went and I reluctantly pushed my toes into socks they had said good bye to several months ago.

Waking out of sleep a few nights, in the darkness, with unpleasant emotions was unexpected and irritating. What surprise attacker would sabotage my security and leave me with feelings of doubt, condemnation and fear? All I wanted was to return to a restful mind, slower heartbeat and and the relief of sleep. Wielding divine weapons that demolish strongholds, arguments and pretensions against the knowledge of God, I fought to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. A sword fighting practice session earlier in the week had me ready with fresh Words of ammunition. "Because he himself [Jesus] suffered when he was tempted he is able to help those who are being tempted." Heb. 2:18. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Heb. 4:15 & 16  It may take longer than I'd like to see the foes retreat, but they do because He is faithful.

I may not be any closer to understanding the whys of such skirmishes but experience with repeated victories has given me confidence in my arsenal's trustworthiness and my Commander in Chief. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer and to know He is always on watch with me! He wants to give me rest as much as I want rest.

This morning I ate up encouragement from Psalms 16.

" I will praise the Lord , who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure."  That unruly mind, those racing heartbeats, the restless limbs may be a little slow in following the example of heart and tongue, but the body will also return to rest. Secure.

Can anyone else relate to the matter of circumstances, the weathering of the day-to-day, maybe changing quickly from hot to cold, sunny to rainy or stormy to calm? What Words are you practicing up on for the next battle? What's your trust level like with the Commander? Are you sharing all of life with Jesus, the One who understands the joys and the sorrows? The One who promises rest?

Have a great week! Our God lives!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Aprons and Helicopters

   There was one phone. At the end of the hall.
   Parents called once weekly. Talk was short, every minute
   metered. "Goodbye, don't want to run the phone bill up".
   Mom mailed letters regularly. Me, not so much.
                                   College was spelled F-r-e-e-d-o-m.

We mentioned them in our staff meeting today.
Like helicopters they hover close. Texts often, phone
in hand. Calls to check in with student. Calls home
for help with research. In our building, we want college to be
                                    spelled Databases and Librarians.

Why the change? What does it mean?
Have Apron Strings been replaced by Air Currents? Or    
Micro Waves?
Or are family more connected now because they can be?

I don't know. But I like how my Abba wants connection
with me. He will never leave me. He's closer than a micro wave.
He answers my calls. We are on the same cell plan. He made an
eternal payment, so I never have to. His text messages are Words
to live by.  Skyping isn't an option yet. His camera pixels have
resolutions beyond what I can compute. But we will have face
time in the future.

Poor connections happen. Like when I roam too far.
Or don't check my messages. We get cut off
when I allow my battery to die and I haven't plugged in
to His power source. It could be static and interference
have gotten in the way and I just need to move
to get better reception.

Technology spells close, fast contact with family.
Abba has always been close to his own. Even when we
power down our hearts or choose a different  provider source,
he is still there and will take us back on his plan when we ask.

Someone recently put it this way. He lets us walk off and go our own way.
When we realize our wandering has left us bereft and lost
we may fear his condemnation and feel far away from Him.
But when we turn to go back, we find he has closely followed
us there and we collide with Him, enfolded in an embrace of
grace and mercy.

He loves me.  He loves you.  This Abba.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

You've Never Been Where?

The Chief Rules! 
Jill, Elle and Me

Here you'll find your favorite flavors, an outdoor seat, if you're lucky enough to find an empty table, 

and the satisfying taste lingering in your mouth and mind a long time...

I was getting ready for work as usual; dabbing a bit of concealer on those facial blemishes I try to hide, while mentally arranging clothing pieces for my outfit that day. At the same time my brain was checking off all kinds of lists of the must-dos for the day and, in addition, I was  listening lightly to the radio station I had switched on as part of my morning routine.

The radio hosts were asking for callers to tell them what places listeners had never visited, even though the destinations were in the callers' home area and favorite places to frequent. I recognized a caller's voice and stopped the multi-tasking to listen harder.  My son-in-law, AJ, was admitting he had never been to The Chief, a very popular and yummy ice-cream shop in town. I had heard him mention this before, but this time I was determined to make his wish come true. I sent him a text right then (don't you love this instant connection?) and asked him to choose a night that week to meet us there with his family.

Monday night found us licking, slurping and dribbling sweetness at the best ice-cream shop in Indiana (truth!! according to a recently published survey).AJ wasn't disappointed with his peanut butter, chocolate shake, the grand kids were cute with their sticky color- streaked faces and we all enjoyed those moments of summer togetherness.

Sometime later I entertained the question of whether I was just as eager to introduce people to a first time encounter with the chief, Jesus Christ, as I had been to offer a way for AJ to meet The Chief.  I want to be.  I want to pick up on the wishes other make for more sweetness in their lives-- peace, rest, justice, love-- all things that can be wonderfully satisfied in our God, who has been close to them all the time.

Open my eyes and ears to what you hear and see, Father.  May I not miss the cues you send me and may your Love motivate me to share it with others. 

Romans 10:8

New Living Translation (NLT)
In fact, it says,
“The message is very close at hand;
    it is on your lips and in your heart.”
And that message is the very message about faith that we preach:

Acts 17:26-28
New International Version (NIV)
26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Not About Me

We shared a booth at the only sit-down restaurant in the row of fast-food giants along the highway not far from where I live. He was eager to share stories in anticipation of his 50th wedding anniversary celebration. I powered up my laptop and prepared to record his musings. I don't share any of his history and only know him as my husband's co-worker; slightly more as we have socialized with him and his wife on a few occasions.

I had agreed to compose a letter from the words he would share with me which a friend of his would read to his wife at the milestone commemoration.  Listening carefully, I tried to capture his voice and use his language to create a document that would express the affection he wanted to relay to her, as well as tease her with his playful exaggeration of specific memories. The assignment was quite fun for me as I heard and recorded how they had met, their short courtship and fast trip to the altar. I wrote up the memento that night. After he suggested a revision or two, he seemed pleased with my  rendition of his narration.  My husband, Kevin, and I planned to attend the celebration two weeks later.

The room was buzzing with conversation when we arrived at the event. Half a century of relationships had gathered to honor the couple and we eased into the circle of work-related guests. After visiting for awhile, attention was called to a stage at one side of the room. Soon the designated reader stepped to the microphone, unfolded the letter and began to read Charlie's sentiments to his bride of 50 years. I listened intently, grimacing when a pause broke the flow of thought where I never had imagined one to be, holding my breath as I anticipated the punch line in the funny parts and tensing my muscles like a spectator at a wrestling match, hoping every next word would be as I had crafted it. I breathed a sigh of relief with the last word of the closing.

On the way home I wondered aloud to Kevin whether I now know how a ghost writer feels. You create something, your skill is used by someone, but you don't receive the credit. The satisfaction isn't in the praise from others, but in knowing the job was done well because it successfully accomplished the purpose it was designed for.

I thought of other life experiences that might be similar: watching your child perform after you spent hours helping them practice their part, planning a surprise birthday party and knowing the work and effort you put into it honored and pleased the one you planned it for, the cook who creates the scrumptious entree dishes you order from a restaurant menu, and the money you give to a good cause, anonymously.  Last Sat. I helped my step-daughter sew a dress for my almost two year old granddaughter, her daughter. Our instruction is often given without expectation of acknowledgement. My reward will be to see little Elika in her new dress at her Elmo- themed birthday party this weekend.

As believers we would do well to remember nothing we do for Him is done in vain, whether we know the outcome or not, or whether we receive praise or not. Just to serve him is privilege! To work alongside the Creator of the universe is big stuff!  There is reward, whether now or later, so let's do it all for him, for the Kingdom, for his glory. Long live the King!

1 Corinthians 15:58

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
58 And so brothers of mine, stand firm! Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. Be sure that nothing you do for him is ever lost or ever wasted.

Here is the dress Elika will wear.
Here is the blog we were inspired from.

We altered a few things like threading the ribbon through both the front and the back so it would tie on just one shoulder instead of both. We added the Elmo motif that we cut from a kids T-shirt we found at Goodwill.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Father Heart Expressions

Recently, friends from Germany visited and shared a weekend with our church on finding and experiencing the Father Heart of God.  Del, one of the speakers, shared his personal story of discovering freedom from a performance based mentality by encountering God as Father.  Del was driven to excel.  Whatever he did for God he had to do better than anyone else. He never believed he was doing enough.  God was always the most pleased with more. During a period of brokenness, Del discovered God's love was unconditional and he wanted relationship with Del more than he wanted Del's labor. From that new place of rest, Del is able to help others just enjoy their heavenly Father and be more childlike and carefree. This point was emphasized throughout the weekend as the visiting presenters used various visual aids as tangible ways to listen and receive the Father's love.

We could hover under a patio umbrella, waiting for God, the Father, to fill our minds with thoughts of his goodness and touch our emotions with his gentleness. A large heart, outlined with rose petals on the floor, invited us to step into God's father heart and our guests were waiting there to pray with us or share words of encouragement.  A bowl filled with papers that had prayers written on them stood ready for it's secret messages to be withdrawn.  Christian brothers and sisters in Germany had written the prayers as though the Father was speaking to whoever would read them.  It was amazing how the prayer I randomly picked from that container held significant meaning for me and the same for the one my husband chose; it held a pertinent word to him.

There were also photographs sprawled around on the floor, mostly scenes from nature: waterfall, desert scene, close-up of flowers, animals...  As we viewed the photos we considered how our Father might be speaking to us through one of them.  Taking pen in hand we would write down the message we sensed God saying to us.

                                                      Here is the photo I chose

In that setting of opening up to the heavenly Father he spoke gently and easily into my thoughts. Here are the words that flowed from my pen:

I [Jesus] was thinking of you when I stood on the newly created moon for the first time. I knew you'd especially enjoy this soft, nightime glow.  It drew you to me in that tiny upstairs bedroom, amidst your struggles of loneliness, rejection and confusion [middle school and highschool years]. You were a joy to me because you kept reaching for me, believing in me, responding to me.  I reached back, you responded and I kept you safe, spoiled for me, forever.  I never abandoned you, nor was I ever displeased with you.  You wearied yourself, the burden became heavy, but you kept pursuing me.  I was able to use what you offered me and I had my timing in delivering you and teaching you new and greater things of my love.  Keep coming to me.  I know you will because my Spirit is drawing you.  Allow the things around you not to distract or confuse you in your devotion to me.  I will reveal more of my beauty to you: Remember I said it's time to celebrate.  Throw a party and it will become clear what you have been mourning about. [Someone else had spoken a word to me not too long before this weekend that it was a time for celebration in my life and mourning was over. I wasn't sure what the mourning referred to, but I was certainly looking forward to the celebration]
The moon reflects the sun.  I reflect the Father and you are part of that reflection.  A softness and beauty in the darkness.

(To better understand how meaningful this particular picture was to me read a blog post I had written back in February 2011.)

Another weekend activity had us up and intermingling with the other seminar participants. A sheet of paper was taped on each of our backs and we were instructed to write words on others backside stationery. The comments were to be composed as though the Father was speaking to the person. How encouraging to then detach the posterior remarks and drink in their blessing and affirmations!
                                             Here are the words that were sprawled across my back:

Hear his words to you, Child, today:  

Deuteronomy 32:9-10   
"But God himself took charge of his people, 
      took Jacob on as his personal concern. 

He found him out in the wilderness, 
      in an empty, windswept wasteland. 
He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him, 
      guarding him as the apple of his eye."

Deuteronomy 33:12
"...The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders."

Zephaniah 3:17
"For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

This is the Father who loves us. Let him whisper his intimacies into your ear. There is nothing you can do to change how deeply he loves you. Whether he creeps up from behind and catches you unaware, or you run with open abandon into his arms his face is full of smile and delight in YOU! Just stop and rest in that truth for awhile. Breathe him. Hear his heart beat. Cuddle close.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Called to Controversy [Book Review]

Called to Controversy by Ruth Rosen , shares an engaging story of a man's transformation from Jewish origin to God's messenger to convince many to believe in Jesus Christ the Messiah.  Moishe Rosen's life was Jewish in nationality, but few of the religious traditions were practiced in his home growing up or handed down to him.  His pride in Jewishness came more from the history of his people than their religion. By the time Moishe was a teen the Jewish religion held  no meaning for him.  However, he was loyal to his Jewish community.

Before graduating from high school, Moishe had made significant decisions: he met the girl who he would eventually marry, he chose not to work in his father's junkyard business, he joined the National Guard, and began studies towards a business career. He also met Orville, an outspoken Christian who eventually was instrumental in helping Moishe to a solid faith in Jesus. How Orville and his wife persisted in praying for the Rosen's salvation is very inspirational.

"It's no wonder the Bible describes this [conversion] as being born again," Moishe thought. "There's so much to learn!" (p. 68) To Moishe and his wife, Ceil, Christianity was very foreign. Yet from the start he witnessed to everyone.  After receiving a call to ministry the Rosens packed up and moved from Denver to New Jersey where Moishe attended Northeastern Bible Institute in Essex Falls; he was sponsored by ABMJ, American Board of Missions to the Jews.

Adjusting to college culture was difficult and Moishe was outspoken. "Anything stated in absolutes rubbed him the wrong way and he often challenged his teachers." (p. 95) The structured activities and opportunities of school zapped Moishe's natural enthusiasm for witnessing.  The book showcases Moishes's strong self-motivation.  Determined to not become passive he strives to set goals for evangelism which are not possible during his studies.  He learns more of God's grace yet never becomes complacent about sharing his faith. He also learns to rely on God for personal needs as God provides during these years in miraculous ways.

While a student, AMBJ assigned Moishe to street preaching without any training. Moishe sought his own mentors.  Hecklers became a sport to Moishe as he used them to draw a crowd to a meeting.  The book highlights many men who mentored Moishe after he finished school and began to work for AMBJ.

In 1957, the Rosens relocate to California and Moishe becomes the director of the Los Angeles AMBJ. Very little guidance was given him during this time yet he grew as a leader. He became known as an expert in how to do Jewish evangelism.

Moishe is asked to go to New York in 1967, and here encounters the hippie culture as a new harvest field.  The Jews for Jesus slogan is birthed during this period. AMBJ had high hopes for Moishe in New York yet he never felt that he was given the authority to carry out his vision. After three years, Moishe requests a transfer back to California and is placed in San Francisco.  Jews for Jesus was becoming an entity of its own and God was bringing together a very diverse group of people for a very specific purpose; to tell the world that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. "They were unconventional people following an unconventional leader to perform an unconventional task." (p. 191)

Eventually Moishe and AMBJ parted ways. Issues concerning leadership and authority led to the separation and Moishe acknowledges that both sides could have handled things differently.  But it was also time for Jews for Jesus to be on their own. There was much to learn in the new organization and both of the Rosen's adult daughters become involved the work.

Ruth, the younger daughter and author of the book shares honestly about contention and controversy regarding Moishe's issues with anger, control and leadership styles. Consequently, many people he worked with were disappointed and hurt. However, "Moishe retained and, in some cases, regained many wonderful friendships throughout his life through the grace that he both gave and received". (p. 222)

Moishe's influence increases beyond Jews for Jesus to Jewish missions all over North America and other countries. He invested time to teaching in Bible colleges, upholding the inerrancy of Scripture.  During the 1980s he wrote articles for Christian magazines.

After stepping down from leadership of Jews for Jesus, Moishe travels and speaks worldwide.  His activities in latter years included training missionaries, writing books and expanding ministry into the Internet.

The book ends with Moishe's death in 2010. An epilogue, several appendix and a letter from Ceil complete the book. Appendix B is a letter from Moishe pleading for the church to support ministry to Jewish people that promotes Jesus Christ as the only way to be saved. He is clear that there are no shortcuts.

I received this book free of charge from the program in exchange for my honest review.